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I was never a jealous person.
As women, we are forever being accused of jealousy. As some would tell it, we are born with a perma-roommate, the little green monster. I’ve heard and witnessed it for years, either from paranoid girlfriends or lamenting guy friends with two completely opposite views on their respective relationships. I used to be full of inward delight, while keeping an outward sympathetic expression, knowing I never sounded that way, never felt that rush of envy, never berated a boyfriend for an innocent act.
Until it happened to me.
I was home on break from university the summer before my senior year. University was in California, home was in Delaware. As much as I loved my sunny school on the beach, my roommates, and my West Coast life, I still missed my family and friends and spent most of my breaks back home. I planned to work that summer to save for my semester abroad, and quickly found a job at an upscale pub that promised big tips.
That’s where I met Chad*. He was a bartender and had one of the cutest smiles I’d ever seen. I was emphatically single after ending one of the most irritating relationships to ever exist, so I felt no ethical qualms in the shameless flirting that occurred during our first shift together. After we closed for the night, in my best impression of a coquettish damsel-in-distress, I asked him to walk me to my car.
The rest, as they say, is disaster. (I don’t think anyone says that.)
Fast forward six months and we were madly in . . . something. In retrospect, I avoid using the word love for two reasons. One: The lasting effects of whiplash that came from going from zero to 60 in a few weeks perhaps clouded the underlying issues that all honeymooners gleefully ignore in the beginning and heatedly unearth in the end. We were both so thrilled — we found the elusive one! — that we ignored our major differences.
The second reason I hesitate to label the relationship with the big L is because I am with someone now who has exceeded both this experience and all my preconceived notions of the word love (but that’s a different story, with a happy ending).
When I returned to school for my final semester, Chad came with me. He had always wanted to live in California, and being blinded by happiness, it seemed like kismet. He stayed with family while I finished school, and we quickly found an apartment, got engaged, and proceeded to cohabited bliss.
Except it wasn’t so blissful. Chad worked at a bar that wasn’t so lucrative, and because California is ridiculously expensive, I took two jobs to pay for the majority of the bills. I overlooked this issue at first because I’ve always taken pride in being a breadwinner, and I knew the difficulty of getting one job right out of college, never mind two.
Unfortunately, this schedule didn’t leave us with a lot of quality time. I would work from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. all days, then 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. some days. Chad left for the bar at 5 p.m., so if I was lucky (and traffic was minimal), we would catch each other in the parking lot.
By the time he got home (usually 2 or 3 a.m.) I was already fast asleep, grudgingly preparing for the alarm to go off at five.
We spent our weekends together though, and if I wasn’t working at night I would frequently visit him at the bar to get some semblance of shared time. After awhile it bothered me — hadn’t we moved in together to spend MORE time together?
But he insisted it wouldn’t last, he’d get a better job and I could leave one of mine, etc. These promises were never fulfilled — I continued to work both jobs, pay 90 percent of our bills, cooking and cleaning on my nights off, all the while trying to find fun and romantic things to do in our new home when we had a shared minute free.
I noticed pretty quickly that the scale was drastically uneven. I was making a huge effort — for our home, for our relationship — and Chad was just sitting back and enjoying it. I blamed our distance (physical and emotional) on the crazy hours, but I could feel him pulling away even when we were together.
I tried to breach this gap for weeks, not even considering infidelity, until the signs were practically screaming in my face. I pushed my worries aside until a good friend gently pointed out that all my complaints led to a horrifying conclusion.
Even then, I blew it off. He didn’t even know anyone here, he didn’t go anywhere during the day. Who could he be with? But the thought was like a disease, and all the suspicious moments were like flashes of lightning when they happened — texts at 3 a.m., phone calls that he would leave the room to answer, passwords where they hadn’t currently existed. Unfamiliar perfume on the clothes. Lipsticked cup in the passenger cup holder. It sounds cliché; it always does. But clichés exist for a reason.
Still, I denied it. I didn’t want to face the truth, even if I knew it deep down, because that would mean I had made a huge error in judgment; that I had, on some level, failed at being a girlfriend.
It sounds ridiculous now, and I am ashamed of those few weeks of denial and for letting an immoral person make me question myself and my character. But I’m not ashamed of what I did next.
I came home after a particularly grueling work day to find another annoyance — my laptop (practically new) would not turn on. I went to his desktop to look up the nearest Apple store, resolving to get the problem taken care of immediately (I have a tendency to procrastinate).
I was surprised (and a little annoyed — I was paying the electric bill after all) to find the computer was already on. I was even more surprised — and you can add disgusted, shattered, and a few other dramatic adjectives here — to see his screen was covered with chats, photos, and screenshots of what had apparently been a late-night Skype chat while I was sleeping in the next room.
I saw three lines of conversation before I realized the subject of the conversation — their last hookup and how soon they can plan their next. Because I’m a masochist, I read it from the beginning. Could I pass her off as a simple, unworldly woman who stumbled into a committed man without realizing it? Nope. They both referred to me, even cyber-laughing about their deception, having cyber sex (with streaming video!) while I was asleep in the next room and planning their next tryst — in a parking lot, classy as these things always are.
My first thought: How much of an idiot is this guy to leave this up on his computer? Have I been dating a closet idiot? In hindsight, maybe he wanted to get caught. My second thought? It was how quickly can I pack and get the hell out of Dodge.
I had an amazing friend who lived two hours away. I packed a bag and called her immediately, staying at her house for two days while my mother caught a flight. We packed as much as could fit into my little car and drove the 3,000 plus miles back to Delaware. In the midst of the drama and heartbreak, it was the best time I’ve had in my entire life.
As for Chad, I called him at work on the way to my friend’s house that afternoon. I calmly told him to find somewhere to stay for the rest of the week and I would be gone by Friday. He put up a fight, he cried, he made the same cliché excuses you hear in every cliché cheating scandal in real life and on TV. My mind was already made up, and I didn’t even waver through the groveling and apologies. There wasn’t even a question of what I was going to do.
Should I have made him leave? Maybe. It was, for all intents and purposes, my apartment. But this was the lit match to the burning embers of the relationship, and it ended up being the excuse I needed to go home to my friends and family.
I was surprised with how quickly I got up and dusted myself off, thinking, It must have not been true love if I am not that upset. I thought nothing had changed, and I could go on with my life as planned.
But I had changed, in subtle but destructive ways. It wasn’t until I found my current relationship that I realized that inherent trust I had always had was almost completely gone.
I had no reason to be doubtful before — my parents are still happily married, I’ve had the same group of loyal friends since preschool, and I’d never been burned by a boyfriend until now. I like to think of my state of mind as “Before” and “After” — before I was betrayed, after I was betrayed.
After has been a lot of work — trying to overcome the suspicions that inevitably arise after one bad experience. The first few weeks home, it was about trying to deplete the state’s liquor supply, and bravely answer pitying questions or smile in the face of sympathy.
I was shocked that amidst the “poor you"s and “what a scumbag,” a few girlfriends asked me, “Why didn’t you stay and work it out?” I was more than shocked — I was disappointed. “He apologized,” they insisted.
Sure, he was sorry he got caught. But should I have stayed, tried to work through it just to give up in six months when I realized — again — that I couldn’t trust him? Should I have let myself be disrespected, seen as a doormat?
I shouldn’t, and I didn’t. I may be less trustworthy, but I will never regret packing up and driving away.
*Name changed to protect someone who doesn’t deserve the generosity.
Want to submit to this column? Send your stories of cheating or being cheated on to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line "CHEATERS."